Glenda Farrell - Mondays in November
Glenda Farrell, TCM Star of the Month for November, was one of the blonde, wisecracking chorus-girl types who populated Warner Bros. musicals and melodramas of the 1930s. Like her close friend and frequent costar Joan Blondell, Farrell was a talented and tireless performer who made one movie after another (and sometimes as many as four at once) through that decade.
Like Blondell, Farrell developed into a salty character actress as she got older, adding heft to any project in which she was involved. Both actresses were also active in stage work and mostly television; Farrell won a supporting-actress Emmy award in 1963 for an episode of Ben Casey on ABC.
Over the course of her career, Farrell made over 70 movies. More than 50 of them were filmed during the 1930s, and TCM's tribute includes 44 of these. We're also including a sample of her films from later decades.
Farrell (1904-1971) was born in Enid, Oklahoma, and as a child moved with her family to Wichita, Kansas. There she made her stage debut at 7 years old playing Little Eva in Uncle Tom's Cabin. While still in her teens, she progressed to leading roles in regional theaters. She made her film debut in an uncredited bit in Lucky Boy (1928), a Tiffany Pictures production starring George Jessel. The following year she was signed as a contract player by First National Pictures, which merged with Warner Bros.
Farrell played the female lead in two prestige, Oscar-nominated movies of the early '30s, appearing opposite Edward G. Robinson in his breakout film, the gangster drama Little Caesar (1931); and with Paul Muni in I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932). By then, she was also appearing on Broadway and scored a particular success with a play that became one of her movie vehicles, Life Begins (filmed in 1932).
Three on a Match (1932) found her supporting Joan Blondell, Bette Davis and Ann Dvorak. All-told, Farrell would appear in eight movies with Blondell, including five co-starring vehicles in which the pair personified the sassy working-girl of the day: Havana Widows (1933), Kansas City Princess (1934), Traveling Saleslady (1935), We're in the Money (1935) and Miss Pacific Fleet (1935).
Farrell appeared with Dick Powell in the musicals Gold Diggers of 1935 (1935) and Gold Diggers of 1937 (1936). The latter film also starred Blondell (then Powell's wife) and earned an Oscar nomination for Busby Berkeley's dance direction.
In 1937, Farrell began her own successful B-film franchise at Warner Bros., playing the fast-talking "girl reporter" Torchy Blane. (The studio claimed that Farrell as Torchy could speak 400 words in 40 seconds.) Farrell starred in seven of the nine "Torchy" movies including Blondes at Work (1938), Torchy Blane in Chinatown (1939), Torchy Gets Her Man (1938) and Torchy Runs for Mayor (1939). Lola Lane and Jane Wyman took on the role in two other movies.
In an interview with Time magazine, Farrell explained how she made the character click for her: "I determined to create a real human being - and not an exaggerated comedy type... By making Torchy true to life, I tried to create a character practically unique in movies."
After her Warner Bros. contract ended in 1939, Farrell returned to stage work and continued to take roles in films, moving from studio to studio and filling out her schedule with stage work and, later, numerous TV appearances. In the MGM film noir Johnny Eager (1941), she plays an ex-girlfriend of Robert Taylor. In Apache War Smoke (1952), also for MGM, she stars with Gilbert Roland in a Western about a besieged stagecoach.
RKO's Susan Slept Here (1954) casts Farrell as the secretary of her old Warner Bros. stablemate Dick Powell in a romantic comedy costarring Debbie Reynolds. MGM's Kissin' Cousins (1964) finds Farrell as the mother of one of Elvis Presley's "cousin" characters - the country one.
Farrell was married to Thomas Richards from 1921 to 1929; their son was actor Tommy Farrell (1921-2004). She married a surgeon and West Point graduate, Dr. Henry Ross, in 1941 and remained wed to him until her death 30 years later. Farrell died from lung cancer in 1971 at her home in New York City. She was interred in the West Point (New York) Cemetery, where Ross was also later buried. Farrell is the only member of the acting profession whose grave is located in the cemetery of the United States Military Academy.
Of her hectic heyday at Warner Bros., Farrell once said, "It all went so fast. I used to ask myself, 'What set am I on today? What script am I supposed to be doing - this one or that one?' All I shouted for was a day off. We got it Sunday. But I had to stay in bed that one day to get ready for the next six days of shooting." Farrell was a true hardworking gem of her time.
by Roger Fristoe